My only real primer to Notting Hill Carnival was this article in Vice Magazine, a publication that treats me like a mean boyfriend treats his girlfriend. It makes me feel bad for enjoying anything in life, but then I cannot help going back for more.
Case in point, “If you’ve never been to Carnival, then the first thing you need to know is to never, ever call it by its full name: “The Notting Hill Carnival”… For if you call it that, you will no doubt be mistaken for an undercover police officer or an Australian, and you won’t get let in to any of the good after parties.”
The writer is correct; I am both an Australian and did not get into any good after parties (read: any after parties). I will therefore call it The Notting Hill Carnival, that, at least, I have earned.
To visualize Europe’s biggest street party imagine Gotham city after Bane’s revolution and add jerk chicken. When I first arrived I felt like those posh white people in Bane’s Gotham felt, terrified. But then I realised something, so was basically every other white, middle class person there. In fact, my impression of Notting Hill Carnival is that people of all races attend it but it operates as a pretty self-segregated party.
At first I huddled in Powis Square with my jerk chicken and ‘levi roots’ mango chutney and all the other white people. I sat on a log and pretended that I really enjoy eating saucy food with my hands. Surrounding me were a lot of hipsters who had migrated from London’s East to its West for the day. Evidently, Powis square had become the unofficial rallying point at which to load up SLR cameras and mentally prepare before venturing into the carnival fray to snap some sweet photos and retreat again with a joint, a Red Stripe, and the right to say, “I was there”. Powis square was basically a UN compound, full of trendy, worldly white people, surrounded by Afro-Caribbean carnival chaos.
Rampage, ‘the most notorious stage’, palpitated as one throbbing mass of people, booze and hip-hop, none of which I recognized because it didn’t feature any Kanye or Jay-Z (I tried to get the DJ to play Empire State of Mind but he refused). Again, among the thousands of raging, jubilant party-goers jumping and singing only eight were white, and four of them were only there awkwardly trying to squeeze from one edge of the pit to the other. Actually, I did see two boys wearing neat gingham shirts, who looked about 12 and 9 apiece, lecherously pressing themselves against any bottom in sight. I guessed they had snuck out of one of the surrounding posh townhouses and were now busily ushering themselves into manhood.
Admittedly, my first time in Rampage, I was part of that intimidated demographic just trying to discreetly pass through the crowd without getting punched. This was no mean feat considering every teenager in the pit took it as a point of pride to become a brick wall and not move aside for me, even as I stood there desperately begging.
Just around the corner from Rampage was a stage where a large group of white people had gathered. They were dancing badly, and with sufficient space between them to avoid any awkward touching, to the latest in beige Euro-house beats being laid down by a DJ with a healthy set of nail teeth.
I wandered around the smoke swept streets, flanked by boarded up shop-fronts, the backs of urinating men, and intimidating, testosterone laden youths. I burned my mouth on some corn on the cob. For some reason, the manner in which I was eating it attracted the title ‘bell-end’ from the youths. We don’t have this term in Australia so I figured it was a friendly Caribbean nickname, I was gratified by the thought that I was ‘in’ with these toughs. I could only get Stella Artois at the off-license on Portobello road, so I walked around pretending it was Red Stripe, covering the label with my hand.
With a bit of Belgian courage in me, I returned to Rampage where I proceeded to have no idea what to do. Not wanting to disturb anybody I just danced at the edge. I was unsure what the etiquette was when it came to “daggering“, the most popular dance move there. If I daggered with somebody would this be cheating? Would I have to buy the person with whom I daggered dinner? I didn’t have any contraception and I am pretty sure daggering can cause pregnancy. I went with the safe option and decided to Irish step dance instead.
Eventually, I realised that the area where I was step dancing was actually a queue for the portable toilet. I did not need to go but I also did not want to lose my status as a ‘bell-end’, so I went inside one of the booths and just stood there for a few minutes holding my breath to avoid an airborne infection. When I came out I tried to insist to the next person in line that the mess inside was not caused by me, and I had actually been urinating on the shop fronts like all the others. I was relieved when he called me a ‘bell-end’.
After an exhilarating twenty-five minutes of hipping and hopping at Rampage while trying to avoid eye contact with people, I was exhausted. The writer of the Vice guide had left me with two choices for finishing up at The Notting Hill Carnival, “Go Hard or Go Home” well, make no mistake, I decided to go home.